Do forklift operators need to be certified?

If a worker is required to drive industrial vehicles such as forklifts in their workplace, they absolutely do need a certification to operate the vehicle. In fact, certification is required by law. OSHA 1910.178 (i)(6) states that all forklift operators must complete proper training and on-site evaluation before they may operate powered industrial trucks.

Forklifts come in all kinds of sizes and shapes to complete tasks in the workplace, and driving them isn’t the same as driving a car. They can range from small hand pallet trucks to massive industrial trucks, which may weigh up to 100 tons and can lift 130,000 lbs (65 Tons). Most of these trucks are around three times the weight of an average car.  Due to this weight, when a forklift overturns or strikes an object such as materials or another worker, injuries and even fatalities are likely to occur.

It is also important to understand that forklifts are steered with the back wheels. This gives the operator more precision in maneuvering to and from tight spaces. Forklifts also have a very low center of gravity with all the weight in the back to compensate for heavy loads. These two things combined make the vehicle dangerous when transporting material because it tends to topple over if the load is lifted too high or the center of gravity is otherwise compromised. There is a phrase that is easy for operators to remember to stay safe: “Drive it Slow, Carry it Low.”

Why is certification necessary?

Having a forklift certification prevents serious injury and death in the workplace. It is everyone’s responsibility to be as knowledgeable about forklift safety as they can to prevent mishaps from occurring, and operating a forklift without previous training and evaluation is prohibited by law.

Statistics have shown that:

  • 24% of all forklift injuries are caused by the vehicle overturning
  • Every year around 100 people die from forklift accidents
  • There are about 34,900 serious injuries and 61,800 minor injuries related to forklifts annually
  • OSHA estimates that 70% of these accidents could be prevented with proper training

How to get Forklift Certified 

OSHA requires that formal training/certification must be provided by the employer if the employee does not have the certification already. It is also required that the employer evaluate the employee’s performance every three years to keep that certification in check and updated in their records.

Applicants can get this certification through forklift safety classes. Education may range from videos, online courses, and lectures, however hands-on training should always be included. The applicant cannot legally drive a forklift without an on-the-job evaluation, as the operator’s performance in their specific workplace must be observed and deemed to be safe.

There are also free forklift safety guides available online that explain the differences between forklift types, provide training information for both experienced and new drivers, and provide recommendations for unloading and loading. These resources, when used in combination with proper certification, may help to prevent workplace forklift accidents and ensure the safety of everyone involved.

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